DENVER - Colorado's new gas and oil rules passed their last major test Tuesday, winning initial approval in the Senate on a party-line vote.
The rules to protect wildlife and public health have been in the works for two years and faced heavy Republican opposition this year.
Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, supports most of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission's rules, but he has criticized a few of them. He voted for all the rules Tuesday.
"They've got the rules. Now let's see if they can make them work. If not, the Legislature will fix them (next year)," Isgar said.
The Senate could give its final approval as soon as today and send the rules to Gov. Bill Ritter for his signature.
The gas industry is slumping across the country, and more than half of Colorado's rigs have stopped drilling. If any other industry were down by half, said Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, the Legislature and the Ritter administration would be clamoring to help.
"But not oil and gas. Oil and gas is a second-class citizen in this building and to the administration in particular," Penry said.
Several Republicans blamed the rules for Colorado's loss in drilling rigs.
"They harm the economy in the state of Colorado. They cost jobs in the state of Colorado," said Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray.
Most gas- and oil-producing states, however, are seeing the same declines as Colorado. Industry executives cite low gas prices, a glut of natural gas and the credit crisis for the downturn, all points that Democrats highlighted Tuesday.
"We've over-produced. We don't have competitive pricing right now to pay for the industry to move forward," said Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village.
Republicans offered just one amendment to the rules Tuesday, which lost on a party-line vote. Penry said the amendment gave Ritter 90 percent of the rules he wanted, but it would have stripped out several of the most controversial. The GOP amendment would have ended the right of the Division of Wildlife and state health department to appeal a drilling permit, made sure that surface landowners couldn't prevent a drilling permit from being issued and kept the rules from applying on federal lands.
Even when the Senate gives its final approval and Ritter signs the bill, the matter won't be finished. The commission plans to look at more rules it delayed last year, and at its March and May meetings, it plans to take a new look at a handful of rules.
Republicans on Tuesday strongly hinted that gas industry groups might sue over some of the rules.